by George Arende.
Dr Heli Bathija, a member of our congregation since 1986, got inspiration from the work of Pirkko Tuppurainen, a Finnish missionary working in Ethiopia, to start off a project to provide warm hand-knitted outfits for newborn babies in order to improve their chances of survival. Together with other like-minded friends, at her World Health Organization (WHO) work place, Heli initiated a knitting group that has today grown into an international movement.
Hope for the Babies International (HOBI), established officially in 2012, empowers women in Afghanistan to knit sets of baby sweaters, hats, socks and blankets that clothe and keep newborn babies warm. In partnership with Omaid Afghanistan Humanitarian Services (OAHS), HOBI offers financial incentives for these women for each item they knit (about 4 USD for a set of a baby sweater and hat) and holds monthly educational sessions for women on various health issues.
Run by volunteers and through donations, true to Mahatma Gandhi call of ‘being the change [we] wish to see in the world’, HOBI mobilizes volunteers from Finland, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, UK, Canada, USA and Switzerland to knit sweaters for fun as well as for leisure. Over the years these “solidarity knitters” have contributed thousands of sweaters and other knitted items. In 2017 alone, 8,791 knitted items were sent to Afghanistan and distributed in maternity clinics there in addition to the 3600 sweater and hat sets knitted by women in Kabul All the efforts help to promote Human Rights and care for many families in Afghanistan where average winter temperature can get to as low as minus 6.
With the high maternal mortality rate of 396 deaths for every 100,000 live births; HOBI makes significant contribution to end preventable maternal,new born and child deaths. “Children and mothers need access to quality community based healthcare and comprehensive emergency obstetric and new born care”, says a UNICEF report.
Knitters in Dasht Barchi group, who are mainly women, have reaped the economic benefit of the HOBI project. “[Income from knitting] has reduced the number of quarrels with my husband over money demands”, said one woman. Most of them solely depend on knitting since they are illiterate and lack the necessary skills and opportunities to do other jobs.
“Knitting has assisted us meet our essential needs” said another woman.
Health education messages disseminated through the women groups have encouraged many to opt for institutional delivery as opposed to home delivery. This in turn has increased the need for more baby clothes especially from poor families. “We get 1000 deliveries every month but only receives 300 sets of clothes for new born” laments a health professional working in Istiqlal maternity Hospital.
HOBI marks its 6th anniversary of existence this year and welcomes more volunteers to help strengthen its objective of providing hope to the newborn babies.